Contest focuses on energy, environment

Casenya Groner, an Oregon State University student in Chemical Engineering, competes in NMSU's 2008 International Environmental Design Contest, which focuses on energy, environment and water issues. She worked on Task 5, Separation of Waterfrom Emulsified Oil.

As part of the federal government’s stimulus bill, almost $39 billion is to be spent by the Department of Energy with an emphasis on developing clean, secure, energy technology through scientific research, commercial development, and infrastructure improvements. New Mexico State University’s Institute for Energy and the Environment in the College of Engineering has for 19 years followed a similar directive in global energy, environment and water challenges through its International Environmental Design Contest, which will be held this year April 5-8 at the Pan American Center on campus.

The highly competitive event this year features 31 teams from 21 universities, all working on design tasks that focus on technologies to tackle renewable energy systems including solar and wind energy, and water issues. Water, one of IEE’s growing subject areas, is a defining issue as it becomes to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century, a priceless commodity.

According to Environmental News Service, the World Water Forum opened in Turkey this week to scarcity fears and protests. Factors cited for driving the demand for water include population growth and mobility, rising living standards, changes in food consumption, and increased energy production by hydropower and food crop biofuels.

“We started the Environmental Design Contest almost 20 years ago to address sustainability issues in energy, environment and water quality and availability. The best and brightest university students from around the globe continue to impress me every year with their ideas, discipline and vision,” said Abbas Ghassemi, executive director for IEE.

The majority of this year’s teams are taking on water-related tasks including sulfate removal from groundwater, brackish water pre-treatment, and wind-to-water energy conversion for water treatment. Task 3, developing and demonstrating a low-cost, energy efficient, simple and reliable system for use in brackish water, is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and is also relevant because IEE is doing similar research at The Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in the Tularosa Basin in Alamogordo. This work is particularly important in the Southwest as groundwater is often contaminated with high concentrations of salt.

The students in Las Cruces next week for the contest must present a poster and oral presentation, a written report and a bench-scale demonstration to a subset of about 50 judges. Teams have the chance to win cash prizes, academic and professional recognition, as well as Intel’s Environmental Innovation Award. In addition to AWWRF and Intel Corporation, other sponsors include the DOE, Office of Naval Research, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Freeport-McMoRan, Copper and Gold, Wolfram Research, Inc., and the Food and Drug Administration. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend the contest Tuesday, April 7, in the Pan American Center and admission is free.

“Eye on Research” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by M. Therese Shakra of the Institute for Energy and the Environment at New Mexico State University.

This article was originally published in Las Cruces Sun-News, 30th March 2009. Written by Therese Shakra.

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